Animal Studies Bibliography
Najera-Ramirez, Olga. 1996. The racialization of a debate: The charreada as tradition or torture. American Anthropologist 98(3): 505-511.
The charreada (Mexican rodeo) is a cultural tradition existing since the 17th century on both sides of the current US-Mexico border. In the US, the event is currently a day-long family affair including 9 rodeo events, live music and other performances, and a dance party. Participants say that the event is meaningful to them because it not only celebrates Mexican culture and tradition but also provides a place to do that celebrating where they need not justify their tastes (as they must always do to members of the dominant culture). The pressures of living in another culture are particularly apparent to Mexican-Americans now, with the conservative trend and the rollback of affirmative action and bilingual education gains and the pervasive anti-immigration sentiment. The public image of Mexican-Americans is that they are a problem population, connected with drugs, violence, and other social ills. A California bill begun by animal rights activists to eliminate tripping in animal events was fought by charreada participants on the grounds that it was discriminatory, for the bill left out American rodeo practices. Media coverage by shows like 20/20 and Hard Copy cast the debate over the charreada in racial terms, drawing on stereotypes of Mexican-Americans to encourage viewers to reject the event. The 20/20 episode, called Pity the Horses, forced viewers to take the view of animal rights activists by using phrases like a practice that is sure to inflame animal lovers everywhere (507). With considerable testimony against the charreada and only one defender of the practice, the show effectively portrayed the practice as a secret, animal-abusing event, practiced due to blind adherence to tradition, a social ill encouraging violence like the other problems brought to this country by Mexican immigrants. What the show failed to point out was that charreadas are always public, with hostile response being limited to people with camera crews since the beginning of the bad press, and that animal rights activists criticize both the charreada and American rodeo equally. 20/20 thus racialized the debate over the charreada. A report on a major Spanish-language news show covered the issue much more evenly and effectively removed the racial element from the debate. By giving equal time to both supporters and opponents, all of whom were Mexican and who came from both Mexico and the US, the show removes race from the issue. The show also discusses the similarities between the charreada and American rodeo, as well as the important difference--that the charreada is much more vulnerable to attack than the huge American rodeo industry. The show also offers some compromise positions, suggesting ways that precautions could be instituted to preserve the traditions while keeping the animals safe. The story, in short, demonstrated how both cultures have traditions that many see as damaging to animals and many see as important and beneficial traditions (e.g. Mexican-American interviewees pointed out that the family event kept kids from being on the streets and using drugs), and how we might find a common ground between them. This more constructive and deracialized perspective, however, did not much change the public debate since it was in Spanish. The public debate, which ended in passing an anti-tripping law in the county that basically ended all charreadas there by eliminating 3 of the 9 events, was not really about whether charreadas hurt animals. Rather, it was about the charreada as central to Mexican identity. As such, American culture, which devalues Mexican identity and connects it and Mexican people with violence and barbarism, wanted to stamp it out.